Have you ever truly felt joyful? Do you even really know what the word ‘joy’ means? Like the word ‘awesome’, ‘joy’ is one of those words in our modern lexicon, that unfortunately gets overused and misused in many circumstances. In order to experience true joy, it would be helpful to be refreshed on what ‘joy’ really means. The definition of the word joy rather surprised me in a way, and I found that it falls into two distinct categories: external or internal.
Externally acquired joy
The dictionary defines the word ‘joy’ as: an emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires. Or something or someone that makes you feel happy or gives you great pleasure.
I found the dictionary’s definition of joy utterly joyless. It’s a definition that is so self-seeking and cold, that is about personal gain and self-gratification. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with success or things and people that bring you happiness and pleasure. But to define ‘joy’ this way seems to me to be insipid and flat.
Another way of putting it is; happiness is fleeting, it comes and goes with the wind and our changing circumstances, just like success, fortune, people, desires… Joy is permanent. So this externally acquired joy, or more accurately, happiness, can’t be the real thing.
Internally acquired joy
In my search for the true meaning of the word joy, it became clear just how deep and spiritual the definition and experience really is. As I said before, joy isn’t like happiness which is based upon whether things are going well or not. Joy remains, even amidst suffering. It is not happiness. Joy is internally acquired by the anticipation, gain, or even the expectation of something wonderful. It’s a feeling of inner gladness or rejoicing.
But even deeper still, joy signifies a feeling of ‘happiness’ that is based on spiritual realities, independent of what ‘happens’ externally. It is a deep assurance and confidence that sparks a cheerful heart, which leads to cheerful behaviour. Joy is not an experience that comes from favourable circumstances but is a deep-seated calm amidst life’s storms.
Where, you may ask, does one acquire this deep-rooted internal joy? That really comes down to what you believe spiritually. I think that we all have a spiritual side, that knowledge that we are more than just flesh and bones, that there is something ‘other’ outwith and even within us that determines our path. For me, my joy is God’s gift to me.
Experience true Joy…and Comfort
Joy. The word is most associated with Christmas. Like the carol sings, “O tidings of comfort and joy”, or “Joy to the world, the Lord has come!” And it’s very true! Christmas is sold as the most wonderful and joyful time of the year. But why does it have to solely belong to Christmas? If this discovery of deep-seated joy and contentment is so wonderful and constant, we should be experiencing it throughout the year! Right?! Well, the truth is that many people do. It’s like an inner glow that you carry around with you, an untouchable force of protection even amidst the worst times in your life. A sustaining power that no-one can extinguish.
I’m not here to tell you where to find this Joy, although I could tell you where I found mine. As a believer in Jesus, mine comes from Him. If you have this inner Joy, then you know what I mean. But if this isn’t your path or belief, you need to be seeking that sustaining joy that you can take with you through the year, not just for Christmas.
Sometimes, however, we’re just not able to find that Joy. Not yet, anyway. It’s in the valley that we learn if we are built on strong foundations; sustaining, and firm ground that keeps us rooted during trouble, grief, and heartache. Without these strong foundations built up in times of peace and prosperity, we can often find ourselves adrift when the bleak times hit.
But be encouraged!
Christmas is a time of comfort too! Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep! Seek to comfort those who are not able to find any joy this Christmas, and seek to be comforted if that person is you. There’s nothing worse than being forced into being happy and joyful when you just aren’t able to be. Allow yourself to feel what you need to feel and find joy in the small things that help you feel better.
In this third week of Advent, it is traditional to light the Shepherd’s Candle which highlights the joy that the shepherd’s felt at receiving the good news of Jesus’ birth. It was during the middle of the night, in their lonely jobs on the hillsides, that the angels came to them with dazzling light and joyful news. At a time of year when so many of us struggle, find or be a light to someone, and experience true joy in the true meaning of Christmas.
Extend the experience of joy
Finally, let me close with something light-hearted!
I love Christmas! I may have mentioned that before! But much to my delight there have been studies into the psychology of Christmas decorations! Apparently, by putting up your Christmas decorations earlier, and thereby extending the festivities, we induce a happier and more joyful Christmas over a longer period of time. At a time of year that is renowned for sharp increases in depression and loneliness, this will, of course, improve our mental health. So go for it! You’ve been given a free pass! Get that Christmas tree up earlier next year and extend the seasonal spirit!
But remember! Joy isn’t just for Christmas! It’s like a puppy! You acquire it, you nurture it, and you train it, so that it keeps you company through the year, no matter what life throws your way!
Wishing you a very merry and joyful Christmas!